Folic acid is also known as Vitamin B9 and Folate. It is a member of the water-soluble B vitamin group. Folate is the natural version of B9, while Folic Acid is the man-made version found in supplements.
The primary purpose of folic acid is to help the body to make healthy new cells. The B vitamin family’s purpose is to convert food into fuel, which is needed for a proper energy level.
What does it do?
Adequate levels of folic acid are extremely important for pregnant women, as the vitamin is required for fetal cell development. Pregnant women that do not get adequate levels of folic acid are at a much higher risk of giving birth to a child with spina bifida and anencephaly. They also are prone to premature births and developing preeclampsia during the pregnancy.
Proper levels of folic acid have been linked to healthy heart functions as well as a lower risk of stroke partly because folic acid removes a substance called homocysteine from the blood. Increased levels of homocysteine have been linked to atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the arteries.
For folic acid to work best in the body, it should be taken with the other B vitamins, such as B6 and B12.
Folic Acid Deficiency
A deficiency of folic acid has been linked to anemia, higher levels of depression, diabetes, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Signs of folic acid deficiency include being forgetful, feeling weak, feeling tired, feeling grouchy, heart palpitations, lack of appetite and trouble concentrating.
For those who have a chronic deficiency of folic acid, it is common to develop sores inside the mouth and on the tongue. Someone may also see changes in the color of their skin, or the color and thickness of their hair and nails. Sometimes, the first sign of a folic acid deficiency is a feeling of depression and increased irritability.
How much is needed?
Being a water-soluble vitamin means that the body uses what it needs of the vitamin, then flushes the rest out. This also means that we need to get folic acid on a daily basis. In the United States, since the 1990s, processed foods such as bakery items, crackers, cookies and pastas are required by federal law to contain supplemental levels of folic acid.
Adult men and non-pregnant women need 400 micrograms per day. Pregnant women or women who are planning on getting pregnant need 600 micrograms per day. The upper limit for daily folic acid intake is set at 1,000 micrograms per day. More than this amount can actually cause a B12 deficiency, which can cause multiple health issues, including cancer and nerve damage.
Foods high in folic acid
In the United States, many processed foods contain supplemented levels of folic acid. If you purchase bread, crackers, cereals or pastas, you are getting folic acid through those foods. Even with this supplementation, those who suffer from alcoholism, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease may still suffer from folic acid deficiency.
Foods that are naturally high in folate include dark leafy greens, beets, asparagus, citrus fruits, papayas, beans, lentils, seeds and nuts and avocados.